The light in our longest night

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The longest night of the year is upon us in the northern hemisphere, and I can’t wait. Not because I like darkness; rather, I’m encouraged by the turning point. We’ll start getting a little more light each day. Imperceptibly and inevitably, we’re headed in a brighter direction.

 

It’s a good reminder in this season. One of the most beautiful passages from Jewish and Christian scriptures reminds us that people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

And the light is never extinguished. It lives on through us, with us and in us.

It doesn’t feel that way in times like today. We feel a deep darkness in our world and in our society right now that we can almost taste, touch and smell. This darkness invades our souls like a damp, long, December night, bringing a chill all the way inside.

But it’s not forever. There always comes a turning point. It’s been that way throughout human history. Dark ages are followed by times of illumination and growth, both in our personal and our collective lives.

Always a turning point

I’ve experienced this darkness-to-light cycle many times. I grew up in the 1960s, a dark time when our society was divided over war, civil rights, women’s rights, religious posturing.

We had prophets, assassinations and convulsions. We wondered if everything was being reduced to rubble. Eventually, we emerged from the darkness and we grew, led by people who lighted the way. The moral arc of the universe bent a little more toward love and justice.

Now we’re back in a dark time. Massacres stain our streets, our schools, our malls, our parks, our nightclubs. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists march arm-in-arm with supporters who call them very fine people. Religious leaders urge congregants to remove their values and get in bed with politicians who do evil things to children and women.

The powerful and wealthy have descended like a plague of locusts, gorging themselves on everything. They leave little behind when they move off to some other area of our society, displaying no sense of responsibility or remorse for what they’ve done.

We feel the chill in our souls. We taste the darkness all around us.

It’s important to remember: It’s only temporary. The light is still there – dimmed but never extinguished, ready to warm and lead us all over again, if we let it.

Christians are preparing to celebrate a life that was a light in the great darkness. His compassion and healing warmed damp souls and helped people recognize how much they were embraced by a love that can change their lives and their world as well.

His message: Take this light and make it your own. You are the light of the world. You’re the candle, you’re the wick. Go and be the light. Don’t hide under a container, keeping the light to yourself.

Light the way through your daily kindness and love.

Be the light

Unlike our seasons, which are naturally regulated, our human cycles of light-and-darkness last as long as we allow. We decide whether to bring a little more light into each day by how we live, love and heal.

People of the light are those who bridge divisions, diffuse conflicts, shine a bright hope into the darkness that is never completely dispelled but can be overcome. They persist in pushing back against the forces of darkness.

In our own ways, each of us can be the bright star in the dark sky that provides others a way to navigate. We can be the rising sun that disperses the darkness for another day. We can be the fireplace that brightens the room and warms the souls of all who gather with us.

In this time of great darkness, we need to be the greater light.

Just blink

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Fewer fireflies are taking flight these days. In early June, hundreds would rise slowly from the ground at dusk in my neighborhood and start blinking. Now, there’s not so many of them. Their days among us are starting to run out. It makes me sad.

Fireflies are one of my favorite things in life. Have been for as long as I can remember.

Everyone has their stories of chasing them, clasping them loosely in their hand, then depositing them in a jar to watch them do their magic up-close. I remember summers at a cottage near Youngstown, Ohio where the darkness was so deep and rich and the flash of those bugs so magnificent. They’d rise into the trees and turn them into a Christmas display with their nonstop blinking. We’d temporarily capture them, marvel at them, and then let them go.

Don’t believe in magic? Spend a little time watching fireflies do their thing.

What’s always amazed me was how they produce such beautiful light from their little bug bodies. When I got older and learned the science behind the blinking bugs, they became even more magical.

It was cool to learn about their incredibly complicated lighting-up process, called bioluminescence. How the bugs’ little bodies combine oxygen with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (yes, I’m cutting and pasting now!) and a chemical called luciferin to produce an enzyme that’s luminescent. And they do this without producing any heat whatsoever.

Don’t you wish you could do that?

So, that’s how they blink. But why do they blink? To communicate information, apparently, including their intentions to make baby fireflies. Their blinking patterns attract each other. So yes, the blinking you see is fireflies making sure we will have more fireflies next year. And the next year and the next. The blinking will never end.

Pretty miraculous stuff, all in all. I think fireflies are among the creator’s best work.

Last week, it was especially comforting and encouraging to watch the magical bugs take flight. All of the shootings and bombings and hatred in our world made it feel like a very dark place. And I was reminded that it’s only when the world starts to become really dark that the fireflies recognize that it’s time to come out of hiding and light it up.

A good lesson for you and me, no?

There are a lot of bugs that don’t light up. They do nothing to push back the darkness. And then there are others that transform it by doing what comes naturally to them.

Same with people, too.

We don’t need a search light to counterbalance darkness. No powerful flashlight, no enormous bonfire. Most of us have all that we need right inside of us. We have to recognize it and then have the courage to use it — to blink our blink – and put a little light into our darkening world.

And that, too, is pretty magical.

Just blink.